International Journal of Art & Design Education

Art Conquers All? Herbert Read's Education through Art

Volume 34.2   2015



Herbert Read's Education through Art (henceforth ETA) is a pioneering attempt to provide empirical evidence for the need for art in the public school system. Rooting for art education, Read applies the conclusions of the newly evolving psychological research to his thesis on education, which he holds to be a contemporary revival of Plato's educational theory. Psychological research proves, Read believes, that art is required for the healthy cognitive and emotional development of the child, thereby creating a stable and productive society. ‘Education through art’ nurtures each individual's potential, so that every professional direction one would later take would be ‘art'. Since its publication in 1943, art-education enthusiasts seem to hold that Read was on the right track, but that ETA suffers from a lack of evidence – a mere technicality that can be amended when research advances. Contrariwise, I argue that Read's thesis is inherently problematic, rather than empirically inaccurate. Psychological research may never suffice for the justification of art education, if ‘art education’ is both substituted for ‘creativity’ and expected to produce testable – immediate and quantifiable – results. My interest is not only in Read's theory per se, but in this form of justification. To wit, the discussion examines ETA as a case study in the empirical justification of art education.